Denton Guyer’s meteoric ascent into the upper echelon of talented football programs in the state of Texas can be baffling to the casual high school football fan.
In their first season as a varsity squad in 2006, the Wildcats were winless.
The next year, they picked up one victory against a Denton team that was also 1-9 that season.
But in 2008, Guyer’s fortunes changed, and a team that had won one contest in its prior 20 attempts, won 12 games, including four playoff wins, and advanced all the way to the state semi-finals before losing to Longview.
Coach John Walsh said he is not surprised by his team’s emergence last season and said a solid foundation and strong work ethic is what allowed the Wildcats to enjoy a No. 2 ranking among 4A programs in the state heading into the regular season.
“With everybody from the outside in, the word ‘turnaround’ is used a lot, but really it’s just a building process,” Walsh said. “Our first varsity season was 2006, and all we had was freshmen and sophomores. Therefore, you go 0-10. In the 2007 season, we thought we’d be a 5-5 football team, and we lost some really close ones. We just couldn’t close some games out.”
“Last year, when we finally had a full school, we started to show what we could do. We have some talent and the kids work extremely hard here. We knew that we would be in the playoffs, but we couldn’t have foreseen going to the semi-finals. When you get to the playoffs, anything can happen.”
Guyer tied for second place in district 5-4A competition in 2008 and played in five post-season games, and Walsh said, now that his team has gotten a taste of a lengthy playoff run, the goal this year is pretty clear.
“We feel like we can be state champions,” Walsh said. “That is our long term goal. We have 14 starters back from that team. But we also know that our long term goal is just a fairy tale if we don’t take care of our short term goals. We are just taking it week in and week out.”
While Guyer is one of the top-ranked 4A teams in the state and the main objective for the season is a state title, Walsh said he does not believe his players are feeling any added pressure.
“I don’t think there is an issue with that,” Walsh said. “Our kids are pretty grounded. If they were going to choke it down, they would have choked it down in the playoffs last year. We’ve had this vision for some time now, and we just feel like we’re supposed to be here. The only pressure we put on ourselves is that daily pressure to do right. We don’t see any pressure from the polls or anything.”
Walsh’s son, J.W., the quarterback for the Wildcats this season, had rushed for eight touchdowns and passed for eight more with just one interception through the first four games.
Walsh said he has really enjoyed having the opportunity to coach his son, and added that he works hard not to be too easy or hard on the junior quarterback.
“It’s great,” Walsh said. “I don’t do a whole lot of coaching with him. I kind of let my quarterbacks coach take over, but he’s a heady kid, and he’s a team-first guy. It makes it really easy out there to coach him. He’s not treated any different, nor does he expect to be treated any different.”
Lantana’s Connor Crane, a sophomore receiver for the Wildcats, is emerging as a go-to player this season for Guyer, and he said he believes that a couple factors have contributed to his team’s success.
“I think it is probably our off-season,” Crane said. “We work out hard in the off-season, and we have a lot of respect, not only for our coaches, but the other guys around us. We are really a unit, I think, and that is a big part of it.”
Senior center and Lantana resident Drew Johnson was part of the 0-10 and 1-9 Guyer teams and said the camaraderie on the 2008 and 2009 teams has been much better.
“We are a lot closer as a team,” Johnson said. “We are a team on the field and off the field. We are just going to have to get better every week and focus on the game ahead of us. We have to take care of the task at hand, and I think we will have a good year.”
District 5-4A rival Denton Ryan is also ranked among the top 10 programs in the state, and Walsh said it does not bother his team at all that it has to face a team of that caliber before it even reaches the playoffs, saying he actually prefers it that way.
“It helps all of us,” Walsh said. “Ryan and Lake Dallas are both right there in the polls, so it just makes you better come playoff time. Everyone wants to win a district championship. Our goal right now is win our district and beat everybody, but our ultimate goal is to win a state championship.”